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About Special District's



Self-determination and local control represent the foundation of the American governmental system, and perhaps no form of government is more “local” than the independent special district. Special districts are local government agencies that provide public infrastructure and essential services, including but not limited to, water, fire protection, recreation and parks, and garbage collection. Since California became a state in 1850, voters have established over 2,000 independent special districts to meet their local needs.

Special districts can serve large regions or small neighborhoods based on need, and they are governed by board members elected from their local communities or appointed by other voter-approved local bodies. They have corporate powers, so they can hire employees, enter into contracts, and acquire property. Within constitutional limits, they can also issue bonds, impose special taxes, levy benefit assessments, and charge service fees.

As public agencies, special districts are held accountable to their local voters. They must file independent audits with the county auditor and annual financial transaction and compensation reports with the State Controller’s Office. Like cities and counties, every special district board must comply with Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regulations, the Public Records Act, and all open meeting requirements in the Brown Act.

Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCos) are responsible for overseeing the formation of new special districts and other public agencies, as well as changes in agency boundaries. LAFCos also adopt a sphere of influence, or a plan for the potential boundaries and service area, for each agency. Finally, LAFCos conduct regular municipal service reviews of special districts and other local agencies to capture and analyze information about the governance structures and efficiencies of service providers, and to identify opportunities for greater coordination and cooperation between agencies.


Independent districts have autonomous boards that are elected by voters or appointed to fixed terms. They can hire employees directly or contract with others to provide the services for which they are formed. Dependent districts are governed by other governmental agencies, like cities or counties. For example, counties often provide enhanced levels of certain county services to specific geographic areas using County Service Areas (CSAs). The County Board of Supervisors acts as the legislative body of a CSA, and county employees often provide the services and carry out the administrative responsibilities such as accounting, contract oversight, purchasing, and budgeting.

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